What is the challenge at stake?
Research shows a shortage of skills across Blue Economy activities in the western Mediterranean. This is the case for activities such as maritime transport, coastal protection, offshore oil and gas, blue biotechnology, aquaculture and maritime surveillance, maritime tourism, offshore renewable energy and environmental monitoring. Existing training and education curricula are often reported as traditional and conventional (Ecorys 20161) and not always addressing new innovation needs (EU Parliament 20152). As such, they are not necessarily adjusted to the needs of the modern Blue Economy. A lack of Blue Skills therefore prevents the ability to innovate and hinders the resilience of mature activities, such as coastal and maritime tourism (Arco Latino 20143) or maritime transport (MarinaMed 20154), but also prevents growth potentials of more innovative and emerging activities, such as marine aquaculture and blue-biotech (UfM 20155). To foster the Blue Economy in the region it is essential to find ways to address this challenge.
What are the persisting problems and gaps identified?
The Western Mediterranean accounts for almost 200 ports and terminals located along its coasts and represents a third of total ports of the Mediterranean region. Maritime transport is a relevant and mature sector across the sub-seabasin. A number of relevant hubs (in terms of calls, container throughputs and freight transport) are distributed across the sub-seabasin. This high density of terminals involves a variety of potentially competing port authorities, both public and private. As a result, a fragmented governance structure hinders the sub-seabasin capacity in effectively addressing global trends, risks and opportunities.
The shipping sector has been facing a radical change in the business model after the 2009 crisis, with certain trends foreseen for the future. Amongst those, the persisting growth in size of deep-sea ships, the increasing concentration of the market in few large global carriers (Fortune 2015 ), the development of specialised ship types as well as the constant need of innovation to reduce costs and environmental footprints of ships.
Seaports in the sub-seabasin should be able to combine more effectively transshipment with a gateway cargo function, as currently implemented in northern EU ports and obtain a more stable position within shipping networks. Western Mediterranean ports may therefore find it beneficial to further cooperate and invest in diversification rather than compete and reinforce the current regional fragmentation. This may require a regional approach that complements national and local visions and interests.
More efficient and synergetic maritime activities across the Western Mediterranean can therefore provide an asset for boosting economic activities across the sub-seabasin, but potentials are currently hindered by the lack of integrated management of the ports system.
The efficiency of ports is not only a sea-related issue, given that they are not independent infrastructures in the regional transport system. Sometimes, integration into the territory conditions their activities and possibilities of further development, so connections may be an element to take into account in future port development plans.
Another element to be addressed is the fact that a mismatch of skills and qualifications appears to be critical across the Blue Economy activities. A survey6 amongst education and training providers, employers and government bodies pointed to skills mismatches in the western Mediterranean. When asked about the mismatch between offer of skills and demand of the market, 20 out of 26 western Mediterranean public authorities pointed to a gap between the education and training bodies and the business sector. Of the private stakeholders, 50% of respondents agreed on the existence of such mismatch. When asked to indicate which maritime economic activities suffer from a demand/offer gap, public authorities in the western Mediterranean pointed to maritime transport, followed by shipbuilding, marine aquatic products and coastal tourism. Private sector respondents saw such gaps emerging above all in environmental monitoring and ocean renewable energy, followed by coastal protection, yachting & marinas, coastal tourism and maritime transport.
Another important issue affecting the matching of demand and supply of Blue Skills is the limited cooperation between education providers and the private sector, as well as between education providers themselves. Cooperation, networking and coordination are in fact concrete means to collectively address challenges that are, very often, shared by multiple stakeholders in different regions and countries. Cooperation and networking in marine and maritime knowledge can help responding to the needs of the Blue Economy and help building a modern, state-of-the art maritime education and training offer in the western Mediterranean. It is important to fully capitalise on existing cooperation experiences and the available resources. Several areas for cooperation can be identified, and these have been carved out in the context on a recent study carried out on the subject7. An important coordinating role for the UfM in this domain could be further supported, so to provide a fair playing-field amongst existing educational institutions and bodies.